“We are talking about players who, apart from Diego Godin, have never won anything. Who do we turn to? Nicolò Barella, who has come from Cagliari? Or Stefano Sensi, who came from Sassuolo?”
These are perhaps Antonio Conte’s most infamous words of the season. Bellowed in the aftermath of Inter’s 3-2 defeat to Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League in November, it was Conte at his crabbiest: bemoaning a lack of alternatives in his squad.
We have been down this road before with him. Conte’s now notoriously ill-judged line about ‘not being able to eat in a €100 restaurant with €10’ whilst in charge of Juventus will live long in the memory of Bianconeri fans, who use the comment as a stick to bait him with regarding his poor Champions League record. If there was a championship for moaning, Conte would be among the favourites: the man simply likes to complain.
Yet as the news filters through this week that Inter have signed Ashley Young from Manchester United, Victor Moses is having his medical today, Olivier Giroud is waiting and Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen raring to go, Conte can no longer grumble about signing players from Sassuolo and Cagliari.
This is a clear statement of intent from the Nerazzurri. They’re pushing the boat out now in order to wrestle the Scudetto from Juve, if that hadn’t been clear beforehand.
Conte is in many ways what vintage Jose Mourinho was; all for the here and the now. Forget fanciful plans of developing players over a prolonged period of time, and perhaps winning something two or three years down the road. Now is what matters.
This is epitomised in the signings of Young and Giroud. The former will be 35 in July, whilst the latter turned 33 last September. Both players don’t exactly scream youth movement.
Both players in theory should help the Nerazzurri out in the short-term. Giroud will alleviate the pressure from Romelu Lukaku’s shoulders. The Belgian has barely missed a game this season, only Samir Handanovic, Milan Skriniar and Marcelo Brozovic have clocked up more minutes than Lukaku. Inter have a realistic shot at winning the Europa League (should they take it seriously), so Giroud will provide a physical threat that Lautaro Martinez, Alexis Sanchez and youngster Sebastiano Esposito simply don’t have.
Young meanwhile is thought to have been demanded by Conte due to the full-back’s versatility. With Conte wedded to a 3-5-2 system, Young’s endless amounts of energy, not to mention his ability to play on either flank, will provide an extra source of creativity to a side that can at times look void of any. The England international remarkably sits 13th in the all-time Premier League assists table.
Perhaps sensing that his old side are a little vulnerable, not as invincible as in previous years, like a boxer in the latter rounds of a fight, Conte is now going in for the jugular.
Can the signings of Giroud and Young take Inter across the finish line and end their decade-long wait for major silverware? If they don’t, he certainly can’t say it’s due to signings from Cagliari and Sassuolo.